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Bullet train Project: Gujarat HC issues notices to Centre, state on farmers plea challenging land acquisition

The Gujarat High Court today refused to stay the land acquisition process for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet train project, while issuing notices to the Centre and the state government on a petition filed by five farmers. The five farmers from Surat district have challenged the land acquisition process. A division bench of Chief Justice R Subhash Reddy and Justice V M Pancholi refused to issue any stay, saying the court would wait for the replies from the respondents before passing any order.

The court adjourned the hearing to August 8 after issuing notices to the Centre, the state government and the National High Speed Rail Corporation which is executing the ambitious project. The main contention of the farmers is that the acquisition process cannot be initiated by the Gujarat government as the “appropriate government”, under the Central Land Acquisition Act of 2013, is the Union government.

Senior counsel Mihir Joshi, appearing for farmers, argued that the project concerns more than one states, Gujarat and Maharashtra, so only the Centre can acquire land. Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, appearing for the Gujarat government, said the Centre and the state were “acting in tandem”, so the objections had no merit.

The petitioners’ lawyer also raised the issue of Gujarat’s amendment to the Central land acquisition act. As per the amendment, Social Impact Assessment is not necessary for a project of public interest. Advocate Joshi said this empowers the government to exempt any project from Social Impact Assessment and the consent clause in the name of public interest. Social Impact Assessment “is the very soul of the Act of 2013,” he said.